Johannes Itten was a Swiss expressionist painter, designer, teacher, writer and theorist associated with the Bauhaus school. He practiced vegetarianism and meditation, and was heavily influenced by Theosophy. He was born November 11, 1888, and died on March 25, 1967.
Johannes Itten developed the Bauhaus preliminary course – a required course – in order to join one of the workshops. With Itten, the Mazdaznan cult also reached the Bauhaus. When, as a consequence, it came to differences, he left the Bauhaus and founded the Itten School in Berlin.
Swiss Painter, Designer, and Teacher
Born: November 11, 1888 – Suderen-Linden, Switzerland
Died: March 25, 1967 – Zurich, Switzerland
“He who wants to become a master of color must see, feel, and experience each individual color in its many endless combinations with all other colors. Colors must have a mystical capacity for spiritual expression, without being tied to objects.”
Trained as an elementary school teacher, Itten joined the first instructors at the Bauhaus, where he was a Master from 1919-1923. His development of the preliminary class of the school revolutionized art education. Instead of having students copy works of the Old Masters, he encouraged them to explore their own feelings and to experiment with colors, materials, and forms. This course emphasized three elements: studies of natural forms and colors, the analysis of canonical artworks, and life drawing. He was a pioneer of holistic art teaching and went on to run his own art school, along with serving at senior positions in renowned art academies.
Most Important Art
The Encounter (1916)
Although Itten painted this color abstraction prior to his arrival at the Bauhaus, it includes many of the fundamental principles that would be central to his teaching there. His use of geometric shapes, including the dominant spiral and repeated circles and rectangles, along with his exploration of the color spectrum preview his later interests.
While non-objective, Encounter is layered with both personal and symbolic meaning. It forms part of a series of paintings of similar composition and palette, completed between 1915-16, that Itten’s correspondence linked to the suicide of his girlfriend, Hildegard Wendland. This work, which has also been titled Meeting, centers on two intertwining spiral forms. This particular shape has more universal significance as a Theosophical archetype of geometric forms in nature and a symbol of transcendence beyond the physical, concrete world.
The painting can also be understood as a study in dynamic contrasts of color, created from a comprehensive range of hues. The striped horizontal section of the lower right color features gradations of bright colors, from yellow to blue. It is flanked above and on the left, by vertical metallic stripes that are superimposed by the dominant form of the double spiral, which creates a rhythm of dark and light. One half of this spiral catalogues colors, the other values of gray, until they meet in a center of gray and pastel yellow. The result suggests a cosmic catalogue of different hues, swept together in a united geometric arrangement. Itten’s emphasis on primary shapes and primary colors drew from the influence of Kandinsky, but would influence other Bauhaus students and instructors, including Paul Klee and Josef Albers.